Consumer Reports ranks Subaru as top automaker

Automakers are just now getting their annual report cards from widely followed Consumer Reports magazine's April auto issue and CR says: "Honda and Subaru still make the best vehicles overall, but Ford posted the largest gain."

The report-card scores are calculated based on a company's predicted-reliability rankings its current models, and the performance of the models in testing by CR's engineers. To get a good grade, a company must have both average or better predicted reliability and good test scores.

The scores are corporate -- that is, for General Motors it includes all its brands. Honda includes Acura, Hyundai includes Kia, VW includes Audi, etc.

A lot of automakers seem to have trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time, says CR. "If front-seat comfort, fit and finish, and driving dynamics were all that counted, European cars would rule the roost." But they miss the mark on reliability. "Volvo is the only European make with an above-average reliability score," CR notes.

Volkswagen Group -- VW and Audi are its main brands in the U.S. -- is trying to become the world's biggest car company and is counting on tripling U.S. sales to do so, but is off to a bad start, in Consumer Reports' view.

While the VW brand reliablity has improved, Audi has "spotty relaiblity" and drags down the company's overall score. Too, "If the new (VW) Jetta sedan , with its low-grade interior and medicore fuel economy, is an indication of where Volkswagen is headed, it's going in the wrong direction."

Mercedes Benz and BMW "are near the bottom" because of reliablility problems, CR says.

But they weren't last. To see who was, hit the "read more":

Chrysler, with a legacy of years of problems, finished last. Its new, post-bankruptcy reorganization models are much improved, CR notes, but the company is hurt by a history of reliability problems that makes it tough to give high predicted-reliability forecasts to the new vehicles. It will take a run of new, bullet-proof models to raise its reliability ranking in future report cards.

That's because predicting reliability involves educated extrapolation from the company's track record. For instance, the latest Ford Mustang is among CR's top models, even though it has new V-6 and V-8 engines. CR turned to data on how the same new V-6 has done in other Ford models, and had to take even another step back on the new 5-liter V-8, which its getting its first use in the new Pony car. For that, CR looked at Ford's record with new engine launches.

Here's the chart that maps how automakers scored in reliability and in CR tests, and where that combination places them overall. Below that is the report card for each automaker, with scores and comments:

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